Monastery, Torre and Pastry in Belem

Belem is an easy afternoon or daytrip from the center of Lisbon. We left rather late on the the number 15 tram from Praça da Figueira with our visitors A. & A. It's a quick ride and after the tram curves down towards the water you travel along the bay, parallel to the railway line. Along the route we passed lots of old  waterfront warehouses  as the tram glided towards  Belem. First we passed the Museu de Oriente  (housed in an old fish warehouse which I'll catch on another day) then the shops in Belem and the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos (which you can't miss it ). You should stay on the tram and take the next  stop to start with the Torre de Belem. If you do it this way round, you won't have to walk all the way back to the Torre the way that we did. We had the right instructions and but somehow managed to ignore them - should I blame D. or A. & A.? As D. knows I  never to blame myself!  

From the tram you need to walk towards the bay (crossing the railroad tracks) and you'll find the Torre behind a small park.

The guidebook told us the Torre de Belem was built to defend the mouth of the river Tagus and was in the middle of the river before an earthquake altered its course. It's a rather romantic sight and as you can see it's now much more conveniently located right off the beach!

As you walk back  this is the view you'll see of the monastery complex. Despite having hauled my umbrella around on numerous sunny days I was now caught out in a light shower. Because it was raining we were hoping the closest point on the enormous building would be the entrance. However,  from here the first thing you'll see is the Maritime Museum, with magnificent double turrets. The entrance to the cloisters and church are about half way down the building, towards the church dome which you can see in D's photo below.

The wedding cake style decorative stone work on the exterior of the building was magnificent. Built in the Manueline style (a uniquely Portuguese expression of the Gothic form) the building shows an extraordinary exuberance, buttresses curl and glide and decoration covers  pillars with maritime imagery including ropes and anchors. 

The extravagant enthusiasm of the design reflects the buildings origins as a celebration of Vasa de Gama's triumphant voyager of "discovery". This is where Portugal's overseas empire was born and where de Gama himself is interred. 

The two story cloister is extraordinary though my photos haven't fully  captured the  impact of the architectural detail. It was serene and lovely on our showery January visit though I would imagine it would be horribly packed in the summer. I'm beginning to think January is the only month we should go anywhere, and I'm not sure we'd recognize or even like Lisbon in the frantic  tourist months.

I was a little disappointed that the 7 Euro ticket doesn't provide access to more of the building but it gives us a reason to go back and to see the Martime Museu with its  grand entrance below. It's worth noting that the entrance to the church is free so the ticket is really just for the double cloister.

The attached church was interesting to visit with glorious fan vaulting  and lots more  of the decorative accents. 

After seeing Christopher Columus in Sevilla last year I'm starting to feel we're on an ongoing tour of old explorers! Here's Vasa in all his splendour.

After all this you'll need some cake and so like everyone else head to thAntiga Confeitaria de Belém established in 1837. Stay on the same side of the road as the monastery and you'll come upon it and the crowds very quickly. Yes it's the touristy thing to do but this is the perfect destination for us.  A. & A. require  numerous stops for cake and tea despite claiming to be vegan at home! Anything involving tea and a rest makes me happy and as you know sugar will always soothe D. Walk through to the back for a series of  busy rooms where you can order their famous Pastel de Nata, two to each order. I'm not  a fan of custard tarts but these were wonderful, warm crispy and rich. Wikipedia has informed me there are longstanding debates about the "secret" recipe and whether it includes potato flakes! I'm glad I hadn't read this prior to eating them. However, as you can see below they were so good that they went before I could take a picture of them in their pristine glory.

All in all a successful jaunt, next time I'll try to summon up the enthusiasm to visit either the Museu Nacional de Arte Antigua up the hill and/or the Museu Berardo across the street, as always there is so much more to see.


Anna said…
The cloister is breathtaking - and so lovely to experience it with so few people about: so quiet and atmospheric. OK, it was raining and cold but that's January in Lisbon for you. I don't think I would have appreciated it so much in 40 degree crowds...